MEET NEELA BHASKAR, INDIA’S FIRST FEMALE FULL CAVE & TECHNICAL DIVER- PART II
Neela Manasa Bhaskar is India’s first female Full Cave and Technical Diver and a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, a Bharatnatyam teacher and all round Superwoman.
Vishwanath Rajan continues to interview Neela about her dive journey.
7. Vishwanath – Trimix sounds very good, especially the Helium voice. Welcome back to our interview Neela, and thank you for being a part of our Woman’s month and indeed our woman of the Month. Going back to your journey as a dive professional, what motivated you to become a Scuba Diving Instructor?
Neela – Thank you! So as I had mentioned before, I was most strongly motivated by good diving friends, who supported me immensely and maintained their belief that I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to. The love for ocean was always a constant in my life, and diving was a natural progression for me to get to be close to the underwater world. The sense of adventure, the love for pushing my physical limits and the sheer sport of diving added to my enthusiasm to try new things.
8. Vishwanath – Did you feel threatened or bullied because of your gender as a diver and of course as a person?
Neela – People have bullied me due to my gender. The discrimination I have felt in this journey has been as much because of women as because of men. On social media today, I frequently see posts on how we women are empowering ourselves, calling out the men who mistreat us, encourage women pioneers in their path to success, etc. However, the reality, I have found, is different. Whether it is in dance or diving, it astounds me that the people who make such positive posts online are the same ones to discourage you at the workplace and this behaviour concerns me the most. Diving, especially technical diving is about teamwork. I, therefore, urge all women to be more encouraging of their teammates, for words on the internet are empty if one doesn’t realize their intention. As I was one of the few women in the country to pursue scuba diving, the challenges I faced were fresh, and I had no previous example to observe, we are still a minimal number. I, therefore, hope to create a path that others can pursue, but the essence of following my footsteps is valuing one’s team. As a person, I genuinely do not focus on the discrimination that I have experienced, because I refuse to see myself as a victim of any sort. Excellence in diving is my top priority, and anyone who attempts to stop me is a mere stone in my shoe – annoying, but easy to get rid of and I will!
9. Vishwanath – Were you mentored by another senior dive professional or Scuba Diving Instructor?
Neela – I was indeed! My friend and instructor Julien Fortin was a great mentor. I began learning from Julien as a Rescue Diver. I was his first PADI Tec student, along with another close friend Klaus. For every single one of the haters, discriminators, and bigots out there, I had these two large, Caucasian men who wholly saw this tiny brown girl as an equal and essential part of their Tec team. We spent a lot of time together outside the water, and although we all live in different countries now, we still keep in touch to discuss diving, life, and travel. Another such mentor is Jonah Skoles- I did my very first dive with him. Not only did we have a blast, but I also daresay we worked well together. I have learned much from his efficiency and love for the environment, and am proud to call him one of my instructors.
10. Vishwanath – You were part of the dive centre that conducted first ever PADI Tec Rec course in India. Did that motivate you to continue your dive education beyond the realm of the recreational diving instructor?
Neela – The realm of recreational diving was never going to be enough for me. I am naturally curious, and often reckless about it. Recreational diving is a fantastic sport, but at the end of the day, it limited my love for exploration and gave very little back to nature. Most of my students in recreational diving are underwater tourists, and while they are talented divers and good people, I’d like them to care more for the environment or the cause of the ocean by treating it as not just some exotic location and not their home. Technical diving, in eventuality, is the path to explore more territory in India, creating awareness on the current concerns that our coastline is facing and ultimately focuses on a sustainable and eco-aware community of singular-minded divers, rather than smaller dive shops that focus on the business of tourism. More time underwater, for example, means more reef-building projects, explorations, and a far more sustainable career, and I found that I became a much better recreational instructor once I started diving Tec. I still teach recreational scuba diving but keep all this in mind. Technical diving was, quite simply, the natural progress of my learning curve, which serendipitously empowers me to give back to the ocean. Or perhaps it is the other way around!
11. Vishwanath – You have traveled to several countries to dive and further your dive education. How did you choose a dive shop or location?
Neela – I have, almost always, chosen a dive shop that a friend has already visited. Diving is a business, and like everything else, there are good shops and bad shops. Sometimes, I take the risk and book myself with a dive shop I haven’t heard of, but I have found there always to be a warmer welcome when I book through friends and a sense of sureness in the quality and professionalism of the dive centre. Fun fact: when I like to relax and remain anonymous, I sign myself up in a new dive centre as a Master Scuba Diver. I find that on travels if one mentions that they’re a Pro, they are given work to do. 🙂 Of course, I reveal myself only at the very end when I have to pay my bill so that I can avail my PADI Pro discount!
12. Vishwanath – Did you ever feel unsafe or vulnerable during your travels, and what safety advice do you have for our fellow women travellers?
Neela – I do sometimes feel unsafe or vulnerable, but I am lucky to have friends all over the world who are good people. I don’t remember the last time I stayed at a hotel! Safety advise – here’s a simple but effective one for anyone who might like some extra protection: when out alone in an unfamiliar place, carry a needle with you. It is far more easily concealable than a knife. If someone attacks, a poke of the needle which requires almost no effort is enough to make them withdraw involuntarily. A stab of a knife would require more energy and could go wrong. If you’re travelling alone on the road and desperately want to sleep, I find it somewhat useful to carry a cable lock that used for bicycles and chain my bag to my seat or the window. If you are eve-teased or harassed in a crowded or public place, do not be afraid to stare your aggressor right in the face. Those who feel the need to treat a person this way are the biggest cowards of all and rely on your fear to do what they do. If alone and think that someone is following you, go into an ATM or any place of worship.
An ATM has cameras and lights, and a place of worship, especially in India, makes an aggressor hesitate. Worst case, walk into the first gate you see. If alone with someone fishy in an elevator, press all the buttons. Learn to fake burp. Most men stop staring at you when you belch loudly and repeatedly. If you are shy about responding boldly, it helps to start a pretend-phone conversation, where you could casually slip in that your father is the State Police Commissioner, or that you are being picked up by someone in a few minutes, and this works wonders in India. Yes, I have many more such tips (we could have the whole interview on just safety.)
13. Vishwanath – What are your other interests when you travel to dive?
Neela – I love learning languages, eating, cooking and collecting music. I never travel without a good book and a big smile. If the situation permits, I try and surf as well. I love meeting new people, hearing stories and talking for hours about anything and everything. I have made lifelong friends on such trips.
The above article is the second part of a three series interview with Neela, India’s first female Full Cave and Technical Diver and a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer. Stay tuned for the final one in the series.